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Minimum wage increase moves forward in Maryland General Assembly but pace of rise is slowed

Maryland lawmakers are advancing a bill that gradually increases the minimum wage to $15 per hour — but does it at a slower rate that advocates had hoped for.

Under the version of the bill approved Monday night by a key House of Delegates committee on a 17-7 vote, the minimum wage would increase from the current $10.10 per hour starting next year and hitting $15 in 2025.

The first increase would be to $11 on Jan. 1, followed by a 75-cent increase each year after that.

Advocates for increasing the minimum wage had pushed for a schedule of wage increases starting this summer and topping out at $15 in 2023.

But lawmakers on the House of Delegates Economic Matters Committee said during a voting session on Monday that they thought it was more fair to employers to delay the start of the wage boost until next year and to take it a little slower.

Other changes to the bill include:

  • Tipped workers such as servers and bartenders could still be paid a base wage of $3.63 plus tips to meet or exceed the minimum wage. The original bill had proposed eliminating the “tip credit” that allows the lower base wage.
  • Workers younger than 18 could be paid 85 percent of the minimum wage. Current law allows for an 85 percent “training wage” for the first six months of employment for a worker younger than 21 — which the original bill proposed eliminating.
  • The state would be required to give increased funding to organizations that use state reimbursements to pay for workers, including those who serve individuals with disabilities.
  • The state’s Board of Public Works would have a one-time ability to pause the scheduled wage increases, based on economic data.
  • The minimum wage would max out at $15 in 2025, unless another law is passed. The bill had proposed linking minimum wage increases to the federal government’s Consumer Price Index, so that future increases would be automatic.

“This is a major policy decision when you’re talking about increasing the minimum wage,” said Del. Dereck Davis, a Prince George’s County Democrat who chairs the committee.

The committee’s vice chairman, Del. Eric Bromwell, said he likely would have voted against the bill in past years. But the Baltimore County Democrat said the changes made him more comfortable with the bill, because they addressed some of the key concerns raised at the committee’s public hearing.

Del. Diana Fennell, the bill’s lead sponsor, said she voted against most of the changes because she preferred the bill as introduced. But the Prince George’s County Democrat said, “I agree about our workers being paid a $15 minimum wage” and voted for the revised bill.

Fennell and advocates in favor of the bill had pushed for what they called a “clean $15” without any changes.

The revised bill now moves to the full House of Delegates for consideration. A Senate committee heard testimony on a companion bill but has not yet taken action.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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